Certifications and Education Needed to Be a Corrections Officer

Tall, barbed wire fence surrounding a jail

Corrections officers are also referred to as correctional officers or detention officers. These professionals are responsible for looking over those who have been arrested and are waiting on a trial to begin, as well as those who have been convicted and are actually serving jail time. There are certain aspects that must be considered when entering into this portion of the criminal justice field. When speaking in terms of the criminal justice field, most people who pursue an education are usually coming from careers in the sociology, psychology, and social work field. A Criminal Justice degree is ideal for this type of career changer because it strengthens the skills and experience they already have.

To become a corrections officer, you are usually required to complete a training course. After you have successfully gone through this course, you will then be assigned to a facility in the area where you will learn the necessary on-the-job skills and training to be successful in your position. Depending on the exact facility or agency you decide to work for, the level of education differs. Agencies at the state and county level require you to have completed high school, while federal agencies require a college degree or actual work experience. When speaking in terms of educational requirements, a Bachelor’s in Criminal Justice is extremely beneficial.

Regardless of the employer you work for, you must have either a high school diploma or a General Equivalency Diploma (GED). If you wish to pursue a career as an entry-level officer with the Federal Bureau of Prisons, you must have at least a bachelor’s degree, three years of full-time experience in a related field or a combination of both. Related fields could consist of a position that requires you to assist, supervise, or counsel others. The American Jail Association and the American Correctional Association are two associations that establish the guidelines for the training that is provided at state, federal, and local departments.

Some of the skills and concepts you will learn with on-the-job training include interpersonal relations and legal restrictions training. Most of the training systems and agencies require that you also learn skills in self-defense and become proficient with handling firearms. The on-the-job training can take up to several weeks and sometimes months to complete, and must be done under the supervision of an experienced officer. The exact training you receive depends on the agency you are transferred to after formal training and education.

When completing training at the academy, there are several subjects that are typically covered. These include security and custody procedures, operations, regulations, and institutional policies. Once you complete this training, you will be required to pass a correction officer exam before being placed in an actual facility. If you work for a federal agency, it is a requirement that you complete 200 hours of formal training in the first year that you are employed. Additionally, within 60 days of your appointment, you must complete specialized training at the residential training center equal to 120 hours. Once you are considered an experienced officer, you still must complete in-service training on an annual basis to stay up to date with the procedures and developments.

Training also consists of learning how to respond to hostage situations, riots, disturbances, and other potentially dangerous confrontations. You will also learn how to disarm prisoners who have weapons and protect yourself and other inmates from harm. Regardless of the agency you decide to work for, there are other qualifications that must be met for you to become a corrections officer. You must be at least 18 years of age with some facilities, while others require you to be at least 21. You must be a United States citizen, free of felony convictions, and have previous law enforcement experience in some cases. If this is the first time you are entering into the field as a corrections officer in a federal prison, you must also be younger than 37.

There is also the opportunity for advancement once you have proven yourself as a reliable and dependable correctional officer. If you are qualified and have ambition, you can eventually be promoted to administrative and supervisory positions. In some cases, you can also become warden. Obtaining a degree is always helpful, whether it is an online criminal justice degree or physically attending a criminal justice school.

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